Ten dollars buys six meals.
It’s a mantra that Paul Rodrigues is emphasizing these days given he holds one of the most perplexing jobs around. He’s chief executive officer for the Second Harvest Food Bank that serves some of the nation’s most food challenged households in the heart of the Great Central Valley of California that is considered the planet’s most fertile agricultural region.
The San Joaquin Valley grows more than 250 crops. When combined with the Sacramento Valley, the region from Redding to Bakersfield produces 25 percent of the nation’s table food on one percent of the farmland.
Yet the San Joaquin Valley has been labeled as “The New Appalachia” in a 365-page Congressional Research Report. That moniker is fed by high unemployment and numerous relatively low paying jobs at the bottom of the agricultural food production chain.
And in the nine-county region that Second Harvest Food Bank, the situation is exacerbated — especially in San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties that actually have better paying jobs than the rest of the valley south to the Tehachapi Mountains — by the economic boom of the Bay Area that is sending more and more people east over the Altamont Pass driving the price of housing upward. In Manteca, as an example, rents and housing prices have been jumping by almost 10 percent annually fueled by robust Bay Area checks growing almost as rapidly while most wages for local jobs have remained relatively stagnant.
“Housing costs are a big factor,” Jessica Vaughn, who coordinates the food bank’s community outreach effort noted.
Vaughn can rattle off other leading causes of food insecurity in the valley of plenty besides housing costs — low paying jobs, medical issues, Baby Boomers retiring with less income than anticipated and grandparents suddenly finding themselves raising grandchildren among other reasons.
“Kids can eat a lot,” Vaughn said.
It is why Vaughn is hoping people who want to help and can spare a few dollars will text 77948 and type in “feedinghope” to access a link that allows you to donate directly to the Second Harvest Food Bank that serves nine counties in the Northern San Joaquin Valley and Southern Mother Lode from its location in the Manteca Industrial Park.
“A $10 donation helps provide six meals,” Vaughn said, noting you can donate any amount you wish.
She said unlike giving money to panhandlers — who if they do buy food with it likely won’t be able to buy a decent meal — a donation to Second Harvest supports a network that operates year round to buy fresh produce and make sure excess food inventory in stores makes it to the stomachs of kids, elderly, and others who are going hungry.
“There are plenty of places people can turn to if they need help,” Vaughn said.
In Manteca alone there are nearly a dozen food closets and other organizations that assist those who are struggling.
And arguably nowhere does a donated dollar get more mileage in helping the hungry than a dollar given to the Second Harvest Food Bank.
Second Harvest handles
15 million pounds of food
Second Harvest Food Bank is not your typical food bank.
That’s because they don’t distribute food directly to those that are food challenged — except for their mobile fresh truck. Instead, they are a distribution center that supplies 92 “food closets” in San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties and three smaller distribution centers that serve food closets in Merced, Mariposa, Tuolumne, Amador, Calaveras, and Alpine counties.
Last year Second Harvest that is part of the Feeding America network that includes 200 similar distribution centers across the country that supply food for food closets in every county distributed 15 million pounds of food in the 209 region.
That food reaches 35,000 individuals each month.
It arrives in the warehouse in several forms. There are gigantic bins of produce that cost the food bank 6 cents to 20 cents a pound via the Farm to Family program that connects growers and packers directly to food bank for low cost fruit and vegetables. They aren't considered marketable due to size, shape, slight blemished, or overproduction.
There are pallets of goods delivered by sponsors such as ConAgra Foods. There are gigantic boxes and bins of miscellaneous items pulled from grocery store shelves because they are at or nearing advertised shelf life.
Then there are canned goods and such secured from various collection drives conducted by youth groups and non-profits.
Oftentimes product will make its way to the food bank before it reaches stores because the boxes shrink wrapped on a pallet have outward damage.
“There is nothing wrong with the food,” Rodrigues said. “Stores have high standards. They won’t accept any packaging that is damaged.”
On Monday a trucker parked at Flying J Truck Plaza in Ripon had noticed he had 30 boxes of hot dogs that had been slightly damaged that he was going have to toss. The trucker called the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office that in turn called Second Harvest that had no one available to pick them up as it was after hours. So a SJ Sheriff’s STARS volunteer was dispatched to pick them up and deliver them to the food bank.
Some of the items they receive such as detergent, shampoo and toothpaste aren’t food. They gladly accept the items and send them to food banks knowing those that ultimately receive them will be able to free up what limited money they have to buy food or perhaps pay a water or power bill.
Partners who routinely ship items are ConAgra Foods, US Foods, Foster Farms, Walmart, Safeway, General Mills, SaveMart Supermarkets, Hormel, Sprouts, Quaker, WinCo Foods, Target, C&S Wholesale Grocers, Food 4 Less, Diamond Foods, Costco and Nestle.
Concerns such as Starbucks will send pastries and prepacked food items as well.
There are a host of other partners as well
huge, critical role
Volunteers play a huge and critical role as all of the food that is donated has to be sorted, set aside by food type, and then re-boxed or bagged.
Groups, businesses, and individuals routinely volunteer to augment the Second Harvest staff of 23 employees.
Regular volunteer hours are Monday and Wednesday from 9 a.m. until noon as well as Tuesday and Thursday from 12:30 to 2 p.m.
Volunteers can do so once or as many times as they like. The tasks are essentially sorting cans and sorting produce.
The biggest "puzzles" that volunteers sort out are the boxes that come from stores such a Target, SaveMart, Safeway and Walmart.
They typically contain food that has reached its expiration date based on marketable shelf life. But that doesn't mean the food isn't still good — far from it.
Feeding America has extensive knowledge at reading expiration dates. Specific food has specific times where they are still good after the stamped shelf life is reached.
While perishables such as dairy products do not last long afterwards, canned goods and packaged items typically have a useful life of six months to a year spending upon the food item.
There is little worry once the sorted items are provided to the 92 food banks of the food going bad. It is almost always consumed within weeks of reaching a food pantry.
Since 1976 when the Second Harvest operation serving the two counties was first established in Tracy, they have had no food quality issues while adhering to strict guidelines of both the United States Department of Agriculture and the county health department.
Second Harvest moved to Manteca like many other distribution centers do in order to take full advantage of its central location between two major transportation routes — Interstate 5 and Highway 99 — plus being on Highway 120 that accesses Gold Country counties that they serve.
Kids do homework,
receiving tutoring for
groceries to help
feed their families
Second Harvest started the Senior Brown Bag program and Food 4 Thought.
Food 4 Thought is unique in that children earn groceries to help feed their families by participating in academic programs at the community level such as the Boys & Girls Clubs of Manteca-Lathrop.
Boys & Girls Club staff noted that members look forward to doing their homework and receiving free tutoring in exchange for the bags of food. They make a beeline for the program after school as staff members indicated kids they take pride in helping feed their families.
Other sites including Give Every Child a Chance sites and various after school programs where in exchange for eight hours in the academic based programs they receive 15 to 18 pounds of supplemental groceries twice a month along with 7 to 8 pounds of fresh produce.
While Second Harvest won't reject items such as potato chips should they receive a big shipment to distribute to food banks, their goal is to provide people with nutritious food and food they can make multiple meals out of along with information on how to do it.
To that end close to 30 percent of the food they handle is now either fresh produce or meat.
To further their goal of simply not feeding hunger but to do so in a way that improves nutrition and health, Second Harvest several years ago added a Mobile Fresh truck that travels to neighborhoods throughout the two counties to distribute fresh produce at set stops as many as two dozen times a month. A second truck is being prepared to go into service as a farmers market on wheels.
The power of
donating a dollar
Fundraising is critical to the effectiveness of Second Harvest. While the donations of large items of food stuff by producers, distributors, and retail stores is the backbone of how the nonprofit agency helps feed some 35,000 people a month, donated funds allows them to purchase perishable items such as produce.
Due to arrangements Second Harvest has made, $1 can buy the equivalent of $5 worth of food.
And one of the biggest benefactors of those struggling to put food on the table is organizations such as the Wheels of Woodbridge.
The Del Webb at Woodbridge in Manteca car club has donated over $50,000 in eight years for Second Harvest through its annual car show.
Agencies that place orders with Second Harvest and pick up food for distribution to one of the 92 local food banks pay a small handling fee of 7 cents a pound.
Second Harvest will host their annual Empty Bowls fundraiser dinner on Saturday, May 18, at their distribution enter. Tickets are $50. For more information go to www.localfoodbank.org or call 209-239-2091.
To contact Dennis Wyatt, email email@example.com